Banking 'can be an ethical career choice'

By Sean Coughlan
BBC News education correspondent

Image caption,
Stock market and thinker: Oxford ethicist says a career in finance could be the moral choice

Idealistic youngsters with ethical values should opt for a banking career, says an Oxford University ethicist.

Will Crouch argues that if ethical people went into finance - and then gave back a slice of their higher salaries - the impact would be greater than a career as a charity worker.

The Oxford academic is questioning the ethics of career choices.

"We are calling on people to be like Robin Hood, but by earning the money rather than stealing it," he says.

Mr Crouch, research associate at Oxford's Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics, has issued a counter-intuitive challenge to assumptions about the ethical worth of contrasting career paths.

Philanthropic giving

In the wake of the financial crisis, bankers and financiers have been accused of selfishness and a lack of moral awareness.

Image caption,
Protesters at St Paul's Cathedral might be less convinced of the ethics of banking

Protesters are still occupying an area outside St Paul's Cathedral, near to the London Stock Exchange.

But Mr Crouch says that when looking at careers choices, young people are missing the point if they see banking as a less ethical option.

He argues that someone becoming an investment banker could create sufficient wealth to make philanthropic donations that could make a bigger difference than someone choosing to work in a "moral" career such as an aid charity.

"The direct benefit a single aid worker can produce is limited, whereas the philanthropic banker's donations might indirectly help 10 times as many people," says Mr Crouch.

Looking at typical incomes in investment banking and the cost of treating tuberculosis in the developing world, he calculates that an ethically inclined banker who donated half their income could save 10,000 lives.

His argument is that the typical working life lasts 80,000 hours and that moral outcomes for career choices should be considered beyond any stereotypical assumptions.

At present, he says that some "ethically minded people" are reluctant to consider some types of careers, such as in finance - while such positions could allow them to benefit large numbers of people.

Mr Crouch, who is setting up an organisation to maximise charitable donations called 80,000 Hours, says he gives 20% of his graduate income to charity and promises to raise it to 50% of future earnings.

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